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America’s Sweethearts (PG-13)
Sony Pictures
Official Site
Director: Joe Roth
Producers: Susan Arnold, Donna Arkoff Roth, Billy Crystal
Written by: Billy Crystal & Peter Tolan
Cast: Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Seth Green, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, Alan Arkin, Christopher Walken

Rating: out of 5

Legendary director Hal Weidman (Walken) absconds with the only print of TIME OVER TIME, the latest onscreen pairing of America’s Sweethearts, Gwen Harrison (Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (Cusack). Producer Dave Kingman (Tucci) throws a rod, then calls in legendary publicist Lee Philips (Crystal) to bamboozle the press by feeding them Gwen and Eddie. Trouble is, America’s Sweethearts are estranged. Gwen has thrown Eddie over for Hector (Azaria), a Spanish actor she met on the set. Eddie’s hiding out in an exclusive nuthouse run by a very funny Alan Arkin. Lee, and his assistant Danny (Green), have to get Gwen and Eddie together again for an upcoming press junket. To do this he enlists the aid of Gwen’s sister and assistant, Kiki (Roberts), who has unresolved feelings for her soon-to-be-ex-brother-in-law. Now all they have to do is survive the weekend.

Now why didn’t I like this movie? It was chock full of some of my favorite actors (with the exception of the lamentable Mr. Crystal, who has played his every role as MR. SATURDAY NIGHT). It was set in a milieu near and dear to my heart, not to mention my funny bone. And it’s a romantic comedy, one of my favorite summertime genres. (In DESERT HEARTS, the proprietress of a 1950s Nevada boarding house for the soon-to-be-divorced prescribes “lots of iced tea and no deep thinkin’,” and that’s generally how I feel about summer movies.)

When all is said and done, AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS only succeeds negatively, as in, it didn’t stink up the joint. It tries too hard. The music is good but intrusive. The lead actors engage in such charm brinksmanship that I almost OD’ed on winsome. But ultimately, the pervasive influence of Billy Crystal led to this schticky mess.

ALL ABOUT EVE, this ain’t. Too many moments of characters delivering too many one-liners masquerading as dialogue; I actually expected to hear rimshots after their lines (“Thank you, thank you, ladies and germs, you’ve been a great audience.”). Too many characters written as caricatures—the Latin lover (Azaria), the utterly amoral producer (Tucci), the spoiled star (Zeta-Jones), the insecure, clarity-seeking star (Cusack), the Machiavellian publicist (Crystal), and of course, the regular gal who works in this cutthroat business but remains just plain folks (Roberts). Note to Mr. Crystal: Characterization that works well in standup won’t necessarily translate to a 90-minute narrative.

While AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS brings nothing new or entertaining to the movies-about-movies genre (see STATE AND MAIN if you want a thrill), it does raise a moment of hope for the romantic comedy. One example: Eddie and Kiki hit the sheets, but when Gwen calls he comes running, and wimpily chats with her without acknowledging Cinderella—oops! Kiki—who’s back playing lady’s maid to her famous sister. Does Kiki repine? Do we get a power ballad underneath a scene of trembling lower lip and eyes swimming in tears? No, Kiki gets mad as hell, and shows it.

But it’s not enough. Zeta-Jones is not equal to the task of making self-absorption amusing, so we never understand why the seemingly intelligent Kiki tolerates it, and Cusack trades too heavily on being a cutie. And this sudden and precipitous falling in love with Kiki—huh? The ending, a foregone conclusion, feels tacked on and silly. And as for people making declarations of love oblivious to the gawking crowds they’re in front of, well... no, it just doesn’t work. AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS just doesn’t work.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

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